WASHINGTON, May 9, 2016 – The U.S. dairy industry is asking the White House to join its campaign to persuade the World Health Organization to revamp a proposal it says would discourage the consumption of dairy products by young children.

In a letter to the Obama administration, the National Milk Producers Federation, the International Dairy Foods Association and the U.S. Dairy Export Council said the guidance the WHO is considering not only contradicts the recommendations of respected national and global health organizations that endorse milk for its nutritional value but would overturn decades of sound nutrition and medical advice.

The three dairy organizations are urging the White House to seek further scientific review of – and changes to –  the proposed guidance, which will be presented to the World Health Assembly (WHA) later this month. They say the document would dictate sweeping new restrictions, directly discouraging consumption of milk, as well as other new limits on various foods including dairy products, by children up to age three.

“Discouraging parents from providing milk, one of the most nutritious foods in the human diet, to their children flies in the face of common sense,” the letter said. “Increased milk and dairy product consumption in recent years has helped improve nutritional outcomes for hundreds of millions of children around the world. This very positive trend should be further encouraged, not thwarted by ill-advised guidance from WHO.”

Connie Tipton, IDFA’s president and CEO, said the WHO’s draft guidance is not consistent with available scientific data, including the research used for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, or even with WHO’s own nutritional guidance. “Given its unwavering commitment to the health of our children, we encourage the administration to take the necessary steps to press the WHO to reconsider this deeply flawed guideline.”

Last month the IDFA and the National Milk Producers Federation sent a similar letter to members of Congress, asking lawmakers to insist on a “more thorough analysis” by WHO before it proceeds with its “misguided guidance.”

The letter to the White House asserts that the WHO proposal wrongly portrays milk and dairy products as an obstacle to a healthy start in life, contradicting the science behind U.S. health policy featured in the federal dietary guidelines and the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics. It notes that for American children aged 12-24 months, dairy products provide more than a quarter of total energy intake, about two-thirds of calcium intake, 80 percent of vitamin D intake, and almost 40 percent of potassium and protein intake. 

“Milk is the original nutritional superfood, yet the WHO is committed to a position that would discourage the consumption of milk and milk products,” said NMPF CEO Jim Mulhern.

The World Health Assembly, the WHO’s parent body, asked for the guidance in 2012 to clarify world standards and to discourage inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children (under 3 years old). A technical advisory committee drafted the requested guidance last year, and the WHO executive board posted a proposed draft guidance in January. The board has put it on the WHA’s May meeting agenda for final approval.

Where milk is concerned, the guidance aims in part to prod member countries toward stricter implementation and oversight of WHO's 1981 standards that promote breast-milk and discourage unnecessary substitutes –  standards long accepted by governments and the dairy industry – in food and drink for infants and toddlers.

In a story for the April 27 Agri-Pulse newsletter, Olivia Lawe Davies, a communications officer at WHO headquarters in Geneva, said the guidance “lays out recommendations on how foods targeted for consumption by infants and young children should and should not be marketed. It does not make any dietary recommendations at all. To the contrary, it states that foods for infants and young children should be promoted only if they are in line with national dietary guidelines.”

Not an Agri-Pulse subscriber? Get our Daily Harvest email and Daybreak audio Monday through Friday mornings, a 16-page newsletter on Wednesdays, and access to premium content on our ag and rural policy website. Sign up for your four-week free trial Agri-Pulse subscription.

“In no way does the guidance discourage the consumption of milk,” she said in an email. “In fact, WHO recommends milk consumption for older infants and young children who are not being breast fed. However, the guidance clarifies that the marketing of follow-up formula and growing-up milks (are covered by WHO code when they are) targeted for infants and young children.” Thus, she said, “Milk that is marketed as a general family food is not covered by this recommendation.”

But Shawna Morris, NMPF's vice president for trade policy, pointed to a paragraph of the guidance that says, in part: “Products that function as breast-milk substitutes should not be promoted. A breast-milk substitute should be understood to include any milks, in either liquid or powdered form, that are marketed for feeding infants and young children up to the age of three years.”

Further, Morris pointed this out from the defined “scope” of the document: “This guidance applies to all commercially produced foods that are marketed as being suitable for infants and young children . . .”

“The direct read of the language . . . is a fundamental disconnect” with existing WHO, American and other standards around the world that encourage milk as healthful nutrition for kids,” Morris said. “While the intent of the document may be to address marketing and promotion issues, “it certainly could be construed as nutritional guidance,” she said. What's more, she says, its broad language restricting promotion and marketing would block important product information to pediatricians and others who need it.


For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com

(Associate Editor Ed Maixner contributed to this report.)